I've been working on the numerous articles I'll be posting about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on February 29, and while there's not much more I can say about that now, I do have some final thoughts about Windows 8 heading into this momentous milestone.

One OS, two user experiences

In Understanding WOA, I wrote about my belief that Microsoft will differentiate between "Windows devices" (mostly iPad-like slate PCs) and "Windows PCs" in a number of ways, the most obvious being that the new touch-first, Metro-style user experience will be the primary interface for devices while the classic desktop will be the primary UI for PCs.

Implicit in that discussion is the notion that Windows 8 will ship with two largely separate user experiences, Metro and desktop, that are isolated from one another. This is potentially weird, and jarring, and many believe, as I did, that Microsoft would slowly migrate away from the desktop completely, by making Metro more and more powerful over time.

That ain't happening, folks. Instead, the Metro user experience and the desktop will coexist for the foreseeable future. Power users and those who need mainstream productivity solutions like Office will continue to use the Windows desktop going forward. And while Metro will indeed evolve, the plan as I understand it, isn't for this user experience to ever fully replace the desktop.

You can take this a number of ways, I suppose. It reminds me, in some ways, of the old DOS and Windows paradigm, and once again the more graphical interface is the one that is simpler and friendlier. Will it be controversial? No doubt. But that's half the fun, isn't it?

Two OSes, same future, different paths

In Microsoft and Apple Taking Different Roads to the Same Future, I wrote that  Microsoft and Apple were essentially heading to the same future--a time when computing is simpler, more pervasive, highly mobile and highly connected--but that the companies were taking a different path to get to the same place.

Implicit in that discussion is that both Apple and Microsoft see the future for what it is. Apple got there first, as it does so often, first with the iPhone and then with the iPad. But Microsoft's greatest and often unheralded strength is its ability to democratize technology, by making it cheaper and more accessible to users. It will do so with Windows 8 and, hopefully, with Windows Phone as well.

This is important because personal computing is evolving. And while Microsoft will never relinquish the stranglehold it has on traditional PCs--desktop computers and laptops--an increasingly large part of the computing population will be using tablets and smart phones. Windows 8 is a timely play for those latter markets, which are very much in the early stages.

And while I don't expect Windows to dominate in tablets or smart phones as it did with traditional PCs, it won't have to: This market is growing so fast, even a three way split with competitors like Apple/iOS and Google/Android would make for huge growth. And I suspect Microsoft will do better than that, to be honest.

Cloud matters

The other piece that's equally important, of course, is the services that stand behind the platform. Both Apple and Google have the notion of a centralized account for users and then a series of services that revolve around the user, bolstering the hardware and software platforms they're using. Microsoft does too, of course. And with its reimagining of Windows in Windows 8, Microsoft is also reimagining these services--which previously utilized brands like Windows Live, Zune, and so on--and how they "complete" the Windows user experience.

What this means for users, of course, is that yes, you can mix and match all you want. If you want to use Gmail instead of Hotmail and DropBox instead of SkyDrive, go nuts. But if you use Microsoft's software and services together, you're going to have a better and more integrated experience.

This may not seem new because the basics have always been in place--Apple's stuff works better with Apple's stuff, and so on--but I think it's going to be a revelation to people how well these things are all coming together in the Windows 8 wave of products and services. Even the Consumer Preview, I suspect, won't provide the full picture.

Windows is back, baby

After a decade in which the best news Windows users received was that Microsoft had finally righted the Vista ship with the release of Windows 7 in 2009, Windows 8 is poised to provide a new generation of actual excitement. We haven't seen this much interest in Windows, frankly, since the Longhorn days of 2003, before we realized that everything was about to crash and burn. I almost forgot what it could feel like.

And to be clear, there was no warning that something the magnitude of Windows 8 was on the horizon. Windows 7 was excellent, of course, but making a version of Windows Vista that was smaller, lighter, faster, and more efficient was basically just Microsoft being competent. In fact, after the perceived failure of Vista, it wasn't surprising that was all that happened.

But Windows 8 is a big bet. We'll see how that bet turns out, but I'm feeling pretty good about it. More important, I think, is the evidence of actual life we're seeing from Microsoft, that this company, for all its size and age, actually seems to give a crap.

So I'm excited. And next week, I'm going to absolutely pummel you with Windows 8 Consumer Preview content. I can't wait.